If you are feeling burned out right now or just a little crispy around the edges, I want to reassure you that your feelings are normal, that you can handle the responsibilities you’ve been given no matter how overwhelming they seem, and that the rewards of teaching outweigh the costs.
Last week in episode 15, I shared four keys to helping you rediscover your confidence as a teacher and avoid burn-out. Let’s continue now with four more keys.
Want to listen instead of read? Here’s part 1 and 2 of my story.
This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new 10-15 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead.
5) Learn and grow through professional development in all forms
One of the best ways to bring new passion to your teaching is with new teaching ideas. A good professional development day should leave you dying to get back to your classroom to try out all those new ideas. Actively look for PD that will be meaningful for you, such as free EdCamps in your area, and seek opportunities to learn and connect with other educators whenever you can.
Professional development can also include informal discussions with coworkers. I was feeling really discouraged one night about how my teaching had become overly test-driven and I felt like my kids were giving up and not putting forth their best effort. I called my coworker and we came up with a new approach that helped my kids do a total 180. Seriously.
Go out after work for an appetizer with someone on your grade level team and talk about what’s working and what’s not. You could even do it during school hours — one year I planned for my team to meet during our lunch break every Wednesday to share best practices (we weren’t consistent, but hey, it was a good idea!). Find some kind of system for bouncing ideas off each other that works for you.
The fact that you’re even reading this post says a tremendous amount about your commitment to the profession and eagerness to learn and grow. Many teachers would never do all of the research you’ve done, so count yourself as one of the most ambitious, even if you don’t feel that way right now! Never discount the value of learning from websites and books and teacher groups online — those resources have had a bigger impact on my teaching than anything else, hands down. There are a few teachers whose websites totally revolutionized the way I taught and kept me excited about going into the classroom.
One of the best times to do this, of course, is during the summer break. Visit my Summer Events page to learn about some online book clubs I’m offering this summer as well as information about joining The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. The club has over 3,000 teachers who are supporting one another in working smarter, not harder.
This club is essentially a year-long course in productivity hacks, mindset shifts, and more efficient ways of teaching, and I am having so much fun coaching our club members through it. Members also receive printables and ready-to-use teaching resources and forms, and the support of myself and other educators in the private Facebook groups (there’s one for elementary and one for secondary). It’s really an incredible community. I’ll be sharing more about it here soon, as it’s only open to new members twice a year and the next enrollment period is coming up at the end of June.
6) Get a life and take time for yourself outside of work
If you’re an overachiever like me, you have a tendency to want everything to be perfect and allow teaching to consume your life. The longer you teach, the easier it will become to manage this predisposition, but you have to set limits for yourself, e.g., no staying past 4:00 pm or only allowing yourself to come in early three days a week. This is important not just because you will burn yourself out otherwise, but because someone who works all the time is BORING, and who wants a BORING teacher?
You want to be able to bring your life into the classroom:
- When you’re modeling how to respond to a writing prompt, include an anecdote about the movie you saw last weekend.
- During science, ask the kids if they saw the latest museum exhibit and show the photos you took.
- Talk about the incredible novel you’re reading and how the author uses the best imagery or figurative language, or how you had to use context clues to figure out a word.
- Play the National Geographic special you saw and recorded for the kids as part of your unit on land formations or world cultures.
- Recount how you were having coffee with a friend and had a funny misunderstanding because of the homophones ‘pair/pear’.
- Share with the kids how you actually used the term ‘parallel’ when you were at a football game on Sunday.
It’s so important to let the kids into your life so they can relate to and bond with you … but that’s only possible if you actually HAVE a life to talk about.
Be an interesting, well-rounded person. You will be a happier and more effective teacher.
7) Reflect on and recognize your own needs as a teacher
Teachers are not computers that can be programmed to all teach the same way and all get the same results every time, no matter what school or government officials dictate. You have to respect your own needs because no one else is going to.
If you’re exhausted, take a sick day! Have simple, generic activities prepared for emergencies so your sub plans take fifteen minutes to write up, and then sleep in the next day. If you’re going through something big emotionally — a divorce, a family member’s death — you are not going to be able to teach like nothing is happening. If you’re really sad one day, it’s okay to show an educational movie related to your unit of study and have the kids write about what they learned while you get yourself together. You are a human. Just as you try to be cognizant of your students’ human side and respect their individual needs and limitations, you have to extend that same grace to yourself.
You also need to give yourself permission to consider your own professional goals. Don’t take on obligations that aren’t furthering what you hope to accomplish in your career or are far removed from the issues you are passionate about. You have to think long and hard about who you are as a person and what you need in order to thrive as an educator.
Teaching is NOT an entirely altruistic profession that you should stay in forever just because you love kids so much. It is your career and you should pursue it as such. Your needs and interests matter. Your talents can be used within the school system and outside of it in so many different ways than what you’re doing right now. This might be the first and last time someone reminds you of that, so please take it to heart! It took me years to figure this out on my own and have the boldness to recognize that I needed a change.
8) Recognize the need for change and create new challenges
I thrive off of change that I initiate and design myself (as opposed to change that is thrust upon me without my input, which naturally I dislike). So, every year I create new challenges for myself. One year it was to run a Reader’s Workshop. Another year, my goal was to learn how to teach inquiry science and have more effective parent outreach.
Without challenges that I create, I feel stagnant and restless. Not everyone is like that, but if you’re reading an article about burnout, you probably need a self-directed challenge that reflects who you are and who you want to become professionally in order to feel more motivated at work. Become a lifelong learner and always be ready to try something new!
If you just can’t shake those feelings of burnout, you need to really analyze what you want. Make a list of what your ideal teaching job would be like (hours, class size, extra duties, role of administration, etc.) and the characteristics of your ideal job, period. As you compare them, take a look at whether teaching is something you could ever be happy doing — is there enough crossover on the lists?
I did this twice when I was ready to leave the field and found that being in the classroom was meeting more of my needs than any other job I could imagine in terms of having fun, flexibility, and lots of days off to pursue other interests. Seeing right there in black and white that teaching is an amazing career choice for my personality really boosted my spirits and gave me more enthusiasm to keep going when I was worn out.
If you want to stay in teaching but are unhappy with your current situation, you can switch districts, schools, or grade levels. My move from PreK to 3rd absolutely saved me — I was so out of patience for cleaning up bathroom accidents and wiping crumbs from tables that I thought I needed to do something else professionally. It turns out I just needed to teach kids who can use the bathroom on their own and feed themselves independently! I recognized these changes in myself and my preferences, and I allowed them to help me create new challenges.
Eventually, I got to the place where the change I wanted was to work with teachers rather than students, and I began doing instructional coaching and educational consulting. You can learn more about that transition in next week’s episode about my journey from teacher to teacherpreneur (and how you can do it too), or check out the edupreneur section of my site.
Teaching can be an all-consuming job for sure. But the challenges and seemingly impossible aspects of it are how you know it’s something worth taking on. Things that are truly significant and really worthwhile almost always involved hard work. You can do this, and remember — it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be worth it.
Next week: #IntentionalConnectivity: Why my phone no longer controls me (and how you can take charge, too)